Today the Organic Trade Association announced a call for members of the organic industry to submit “big ideas” for a voluntary organic checkoff program. Titled GRO, shorthand for Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic, the program is a first-of-its kind.
For years members of the OTA had pushed to establish a checkoff that would have gathered funds from organic stakeholders across the country to market organic products to consumers via educational campaigns.
Agricultural checkoff programs are nothing new. Remember those “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner” commercials? That was funded by the Beef Checkoff Program. The famous “Got Milk?” advertisements? They are a result of the dairy industry checkoff.
In May 2018, more than one year after the comment period closed for the organic checkoff, the USDA unexpectedly terminated the checkoff rule-making process, citing a lack of consensus within the organic industry and “divergent views on how to resolve issues in implementing the proposed program,” according to a USDA press release. Indeed, the checkoff was a contentious issue, with the most vocal opponents, such as the Cornucopia Institute, arguing the program would undermine organic farmers.
A voluntary checkoff, however, may be a boon to the industry, not to mention an industry compromise, some say.
"We want GRO Organic to be a bold and engaged opt-in program that pools resources from everyone who can contribute so that we can collectively address critical needs across the organic sector," Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association, said in a statement. "The need for more investment in organic is widely agreed upon—how we solve for it is what we must now work together to determine."
From now until April 30, 2019, the OTA seeks ideas that can help bring new farmers into organic production, support long-term organic operations, establish organic research and educate the public on the benefits of organic and the agricultural standard’s chief differentiators. Programs for the voluntary checkoff will focus on five areas, including participation, funding, decision making, programming and general issues.